What’s a reasonable amount to buy your silence with a non-disclosure agreement? Is it the $130,000 allegedly paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels? Or maybe it’s the $150,000 doled out to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to shut her up.
In my case, the price to keep me quiet was less, a lot less, as in fifty dollars. Let me explain.
My story begins with a Caribbean getaway last March booked through a firm I’ll call Sunwing because that, in fact, is the firm’s name. My wife and I travelled to Cayo Coco in Cuba and were looking forward to a restful, sunny beach holiday. Sadly, that was not to be.
The trip was not an unmitigated disaster but there were enough shortfalls that we felt that some compensation was owing to us. We stayed in an aging, mold-infested room with peeling paint although, on the bright side, we had hot water, a comfortable bed and a functioning air conditioner.
The resort was recovering from Hurricane Irma and we therefore made allowances for that. However, Irma did not excuse the sad condition of the resort’s public washrooms or the stagnant, fetid pool outside the main restaurant. Most importantly, we happened to be there when the resort was restoring its beach resulting in murky water and no shade umbrellas or palapas.
There were other minor irritants but it was the loss of the beach for our one-week stay which we felt deserved some compensation. Not a full refund or anything close to that amount but at least a token ten or twenty percent reduction in the overall cost of our package.
So once we got back home, I took computer keyboard in hand and wrote the tour operator, outlined the problems we encountered and requested some money back. Not surprisingly, the operator blamed everything on the resort and said it wasn’t responsible for its shortcomings.
I persisted in my complaint and was ultimately successful in getting Sunwing to agree to have the resort compensate us fifty dollars for our troubles. And that was no ordinary fifty dollars; it was $50 US or approximately $65 Canadian.
At that point, I figured why not take the token offering and be done with it. After all, it was clear that unless I was willing to go to the trouble of filing a small claims court action, I wasn’t likely going to squeeze any more blood out of this particular stone.
So I printed off the form Sunwing required me to sign in order to access the wealth on offer. What I was asked to sign, however, looked to be drafted by an understudy of Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen.
The payment would not be an admission of liability by Sunwing and the resort. Fair enough. And the fifty dollars would be a final settlement of any claims I might have had. Also fine by me.
What rankled, however, was the final paragraph which was essentially a hush agreement and a non-disclosure agreement rolled into one. If I signed, I would be prohibited from “directly or indirectly” talking about our negative experience “to anyone in any way.”
The terms of the settlement would be confidential and we would agree that our intention would be to “avoid and prevent publicity regarding the settlement.” Finally, if I breached the terms, I agreed that such breach would cause “unquantifiable damages” to the tour operator and the resort.
As I had already directly informed a number of friends and relatives about our “negative experience” and indirectly informed many more people in a published opinion piece, I couldn’t, in all good conscience, agree to the onerous terms on offer. More importantly, it seemed totally unfair and completely over the top to muzzle me forever for the grand total of fifty dollars even if it was in American currency.
So I told Sunwing to take a hike and keep their fifty dollars. It turns out that it’s worth a whole lot more to me to preserve my freedom of speech. It’s also far more satisfying to vent than to dream about how I might have spent that giant payout.
If a six-figure settlement had been on offer like those available to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, I can’t claim that I would have taken the high road. But I do know that my principles are worth something more than fifty bucks.